THERE is a 'lost generation' of young emigrants who are suffering from homesickness and loneliness, despite hugely improved job opportunities when they move abroad.
One in four families has experienced recent emigration and despite technological advances and cheaper flights, the cultural and psychological impact is hitting hard.
Already 308,000 have moved overseas in search of work in the past four years, and half of young people aged under 24 have considered emigrating.
But away from the raw statistics, a new report by Marie Claire McAleer, of the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI), explores for the first time the massive emotional strains emigration imposes on thousands of Irish families.
The study found many emigrants still want to return home, but those that do are liable to suffer "reverse culture shock" and feel they don't really belong.
"The implications of losing such large numbers of our youth population will remain to be seen," the report said.
"Undoubtedly the effects of brain drain and losing a significant proportion of young people means a loss of a highly skilled, educated workforce and the loss of a generation of Irish people."
It demanded the Government do more to help those thinking of leaving the country, and appoint a dedicated minister to deal with emigration.
The Red C poll for the NYCI was based on detailed interviews with more than 1,000 young people who have moved to Canada and the UK in the past two years,.
The survey gives voice to a lost generation, many of whom felt they had no choice but to emigrate and some who will never return.
The poll also found that more than 50pc of 18- to 24-year-olds and four-in-10 adults aged 25-34 have considered emigrating.
Of the 308,000 people who left in the past four years, 41pc are in the 15-to-24 age bracket.
But a sizeable number (7pc) of those aged over 65 have also considered moving abroad, among them grandparents determined not to lose touch with their young relatives.
While this new wave of emigrants are more technologically savvy and confident, the report found that they still encounter adjustment problems and often struggle with loneliness, money issues and other hurdles.
They are in an unfamiliar country as they grapple with job searches, opening a bank account or accessing healthcare.
Those interviewed cited two key reasons for emigrating, with 43pc going in the hope of better employment and 41pc because of having no work in Ireland.
Only 10pc said they left to experience life abroad.
Many of the young people interviewed said that while their parents were sad to see them go, they recognised it was for the best "in light of the dire economic situation in Ireland".
Both parents and young people are "filtering their emotions", so that neither side knows how the other really feels, the report noted.
Parents are hiding their sadness about their children moving abroad, while the young people imply that everything is going well – even if it is not.
The vast majority of respondents said they eventually wanted to come home if they could get a job.
Many missed the simple pleasures of home such as the Irish countryside, Taytos, Barrys Tea and a decent pint of Guinness.
Report author Marie-Claire McAleer – who is a senior research and policy officer of the NYCI – called on the Government to act on the recommendations contained in the study.
Apart from a dedicated Emigration Minister, Ms McAleer stressed the need for centralised data collection to profile and track emigrants and for a campaign to promote foreign languages in secondary schools.
The research also highlighted the fact that many young emigrants were not aware of opportunities such as internships, work placements or other employment prospects abroad.
The NYCI has recommended that the Department of Social Protection extend its current service to include overseas advertisements of opportunities of this nature, possible through a freely downloadable app.
Sinn Fein youth affairs spokeswoman Senator Kathryn Reilly welcomed the research, saying the report's findings were "disturbing but not surprising" and that "more action on jobs was needed to give young people a real choice to stay in Ireland".
Ms McAleer said that while emigration remained an emotive issue for the thousands choosing that option, she was impressed by their positivity – with those who have alrgone recommending those considering it to "embrace the experience".